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Est. April 5, 2002
July 11, 2019 - Issue 797

Voting Rights
is the
Next Battleground
Hello to court-sanctioned gerrymandering


"Voting is one tool we use to participate in this
so-called democracy but it’s an important one.
We have seen persistent attacks on voting rights
from unnecessary identification laws to illegal
purging of voter rolls to trickery at the polling sites."

The U.S. Supreme Court just didn’t pass the buck on the issue of gerrymandering. It refused to carry out its duty to uphold basic constitutional protections. The ruling makes the passage of Missouri’s Amendment 1 last November even more significant.

Instead of standing up for democracy, the High Court stood down, deciding that legal claims for redress were “beyond the reach of the federal courts.” The power should stay in the hands of state legislature no matter how racist, partisan or undemocratic these bodies were.

The SCOTUS opinion was a crushing blow for states needing some relief from the power-grabbing hands of Republican-dominated state legislatures.

Some of us anticipated that the fight for voter rights was moving into a new era when the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County vs Holder) in 2013. It opened the gates for the GOP to run buck wild with an aggressive voter suppression campaign that included stepping up gerrymandering to consolidate power.

The Democratic Party was slow to realize the impact and even slower to put its own offensive efforts into play. Then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stood up.

As the nation’s top attorney, Eric Holder was tasked with defending the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Shelby County v. Holder. When SCOTUS gutted it, Holder read the writing on the wall. Since then, he was been on a righteous mission to raise the issue and fight on all levels to protect the voting rights from the streets to the courts.

Holder launched the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). Last year President Obama folded his initiative Organizing for Action into the new operations. This gave the NDRC immediate restructure and resources to wage a strategic, targeted offensive in incorrigibly partisan states.

The GOP now has a super-majority in 30 state houses. Scary. In eight of those states, there is a Democratic governor thanks to voters who can use their veto power to stop, or at least slow down, a partisan, gerrymandered map.

Since the SCOTUS ruling in 2013, forward-thinking stakeholders in Missouri started to scrutinize our own political reality. We knew we couldn’t rely on the good graces of a Republican governor nor the stacked state and federal courts to look out for us. That’s why a progressive coalition took matters into its own hands and worked to present a ballot initiative to voters last November to address redistricting, campaign finance and political lobbying. Our hard work paid off. Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri, was overwhelmingly passed by voters across the state.

The importance of Amendment 1 has now come front and center, particularly the component on redistricting.

Before the passage of Amendment 1, Missouri was one of a handful of states whose redistricting map was done by a commission of equally appointed Republican and Democrats. The map had to be approved by 70 percent of the commission members.

Under the new scenario, the redistricting map is in the hands of a state demographer whose selection process and qualifications were carefully crafted to minimize any political shenanigans.  The district maps must follow a list of strict criteria spelled out in the constitutional amendment designed to create districts based on “partisan fairness and competitiveness.”

Any changes would still have to be approved by 70 percent of the commissioners, but it must also adhere to the Amendment 1’s criteria for fair redistricting—rooted in the language and spirit of the national Voting Rights Act. Not to comply with the law is a crime.

Our intent was to take district mapping out of the hands of politicians looking out for special interests. There are opportunities for accountability on several levels along the way. Elected officials, community leaders and voters must all be woke if we are serious about protecting and expanding voting rights. Our fight is to make sure the new law is followed every step of the way as the primary way to guarantee fairer voting districts and reduce gerrymandering.

Voting is one tool we use to participate in this so-called democracy but it’s an important one. We have seen persistent attacks on voting rights from unnecessary identification laws to illegal purging of voter rolls to trickery at the polling sites.

The right-wing is lining up a mighty offensive with all the institutions at its disposal. If they win, are fate could be set for generations to come. The defenders of democracy have a big fight on our hands. Together, it’s a fight we must organize to win. Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle.  Other writings by Ms. Rogers can be found on her blog jamalarogers.comContact Ms. Rogers and BC.




is published every Thursday
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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